We’re at the end of the month, and the Celebration of Women In Sales does not stop here. Instead, it’s been a great kick-off to celebrate Women every month! I’ve seen beautiful posts, attended webinars, and had conversations with both women and men about the topic.
In the spirit of this month, I wanted to write about my journey and the stories behind some of the main themes of my career thus far: staying true to your values, fostering and building authentic community, and finding your tribe.
My experience as a woman has been a mixed one. During my high school years, I was the alpha female. When my friends described me, they would say I was bossy, bitchy, and rude. Since then, I have learned that I am a leader, assertive, and straight to the point. I’ve learned that the narrative I told myself and the stories I was listening to were not the full picture.
I didn’t have a lot of women in my life I could trust or go to. Partially because of how I grew up: in foster care.
Most people grow up and learn from the first woman in their life, their mom. I did for the first nine years of my life. After that, I grew up and lived in two different families. Not only did this make me strive to build my own tribe as I grew older, but it also taught me about how to foster a true community.
I’m grateful for the women in my life who showed me how to work together, build strong relationships, and unconditional support. The concept of building a community started with watching my daycare and foster mom: Anette Berg.
Before she passed away in 2015 of lung cancer, I had watched her build a connection with the entire community of the small town in Sweden I grew up in. She was a selfless woman from the time I was a baby until the day she passed away. She taught me to give without expecting anything in return. She would go above and beyond, waking up in the middle of the night to pick us up from a party across the town because we missed the last bus home. Another time she drove 5 hours to pick up my brother in the middle of the night. There are countless more examples of what she did without expecting a thank you in return. She was a true leader and what I call ‘shero’—someone who leads by example and stays true to their core values. On the day of her funeral, it was evident how many lives she had touched over a lifetime.
Someone else in recent months who had an impact on my life is my mentor, Amy Volas.
Sometimes you will meet someone who instantly feels like a friend, sister, and teacher. All wrapped into one human being. And when that someone is a successful businesswoman, you feel like you won the lottery. There are many others I’ve met because of various communities, and while they are out in the open, not many take advantage of the blessings.
With women like Anette and Amy in my life, I’ve learned a few key lessons I’d like to share with you.
Stay True to Your Values
There are four main values I want to write about when it comes to staying true to my own values while helping build a community.
Integrity is Everything.
The first one is integrity. I have people sharing things with me that they aren’t ready or comfortable to make public. It’s because they know I won’t share it with anyone else—it stays between us. I take this level of trust seriously because I’ve been on the receiving end of sharing something personal and finding out the word got out. Because of this experience, I highly value integrity.
Integrity is something that gets tested all the time. If someone told you something, whether it’s big or small, in your opinion, you mustn’t share with anyone else unless they told you it’s ok. I’ve learned this hard lesson over the years and lost a few friends because I couldn’t keep their secret to myself. I have also been on the receiving end of it, and it did not make me feel good when something got out that I told in confidence. Because of these experiences, I’ve learned to keep things to myself that concerns someone else.
When my best friend announced my engagement before I had a chance to do it, I was hurt. I felt as if my opportunity to share the good news was taken away. It took me a few months to let her know how it made me feel, and once we had a conversation about it, we were able to move forward. It also allowed us to talk about our shared values and set expectations for the future.
Some people have seen my LinkedIn post over the past months and told me how brave and vulnerable I am. They’re right—I choose to be uncomfortable with the world when I share that I got a divorce five years ago, got sober 2.5 years ago, and how hard it is to grieve a loss. Being vulnerable is a choice, and not everyone is ready to share certain aspects of their lives with the world. You don’t have to feel the pressure, but I encourage you to be vulnerable and courageous with your closest friends and family.
I remember the day I decided to tell my oldest brother I had a problem with substances and had become sober. I was living in Natick, MA, at the time and was driving from school to work. In between those distances, I stopped to get gas. While pumping the gas, I called my brother. I had to take several deep breaths to get through the potential judgment. I was afraid that he would be disappointed in me. When I finally told him, I was surprised by his reaction. He was extremely supportive and not judgmental. It was my first lesson to be more open and vulnerable with my family.
Being vulnerable is one thing, and being honest is another. It’s not often that people ask for my honest opinion because I’m known to give it anyway. When I was a teenager, everyone knew to expect me to spit out my thoughts about their new purchase of a sweater, whether they asked for it or not. My colleagues come to me when they have something they would like an objective opinion on. Over time, I’ve learned to communicate my honest opinion better. From spitting out, “that’s an ugly sweater you bought, in my opinion” to a friend to “would you be open or interested in some feedback?” to a colleague.
Staying honest has been one of my favorite attributes, perhaps because that is what I appreciate in others and is drawn to.
Seek Feedback; Not Validation.
There is a balance between wanting feedback and validation, especially when your primary love language is words of affirmation. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked the people closest to me to validate my feeling because a big part of me has missed that in other aspects of my life. Looking back at some of these interactions, I needed feedback and what I wanted was validation—two different things.
Seek feedback and not validation. This can be something as simple as asking for feedback after a presentation instead of having someone validate how great you did. Ask: “I’d like your feedback on the presentation, what can I improve on next time?” instead of asking: “how do you think I did?” because the latter is seeking validation that you did great. You already know you did well; what you need to know is how you can do great.
Sometimes it’s hard to receive feedback when all you want is validation. It’s important to seek out a balance to build confidence. There are many ways to do that, and that’s what we’ll get into next: fostering a true community and how to build it.
Fostering and Building a True Community
Earlier I wrote about how my foster mom Anette built a community around herself on a macro-level. Today, I’m sharing my ideas on how to foster a true micro-community. I don’t have a definition of what it is, but I have versions of it. The first that comes to mind is the community I built with Jared, RevGenius. We’ve been able to foster a community of +7,000 members in a short amount of time. We’ve also made it not feel like a massive community by building out programming that supports our community.
I get involved in the community with our initiatives after I help build it after seeking feedback on improvement from members. Most recently, I met with Tara Horstmeyer. We had been chatting for a few weeks and finally was able to find time to meet. After our 1:1, she sent me a screenshot of a written thank you card. That was a reminder of fostering a true community that feels like a family.
Another way to build a micro-community is with your own tribe. Someone said to me the other day, “there’s a reason I am sitting here talking with you and not upstairs having dinner with my family.”
It took me a few days to reflect on what he was saying: the ability to build a community and network around yourself. This isn’t the first time someone has said this, but sometimes it takes a few different people to point something out for you to realize what you are capable of. I’ve been able to get other people invested in what I do and what I am creating with the RevGenius community and my personal life. The same concept can and should be applied in the business world. If you can get your prospect invested in your product and in who you are, it will be a much more genuine relationship.
Building Your Tribe
The idea of building your own tribe came to me from Cynthia Barnes. She has done an exceptional job on this with her community National Association of Women In Sales (NAWSP). It means having people in your corner who you will support and, in return, will support you. I have multiple tribes of impactful men and women in my life.
I recently tweeted about someone I consider my Hero and Shero (the male and female version of a hero). When most people are asked who their hero or shero is, they probably mention their mom, dad, uncle, aunt, or another relative. I used to say my Dad because that’s what all the other kids said in school. I recently mentioned in a tweet that Scott Leese is my Hero, and Nikki Ivey is my Shero. Why? Because they’re doing important work in the community, among many others. They have shown up for me without asking for anything in return, and they’ve led by example online and offline. There are many more reasons, and everyone needs a tribe. Who’s in yours?